Brenda Vollmar, an instructional assistant at Myers Elementary School, and teacher Tyler Lewis greet arriving students on Wednesday, March 17, 2021. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

By 2023, crossing busy streets will be a little safer for hundreds of students who walk to three east Salem elementary schools.

Marion County is planning to add crosswalks and sidewalk improvements near Auburn, Mary Eyre and Four Corners elementary schools through Oregon’s Safe Routes to Schools Program after the county received state grants to help pay for the projects.

The Oregon Department of Transportation recently awarded the county $1.3 million to cover the improvements at those schools, as well as a project near Stayton Middle School. The county’s public works department will contribute $550,000.

The state’s Safe Routes to School program pays for efforts to encourage children to walk or bike to school and infrastructure improvements to make walking routes safer, including crosswalks, flashing lights and sidewalks.

Lani Radtke, Marion County public works engineering division manager, told the county board of commissioners that the state funded 43 such projects out of 99 applications statewide this year. Marion County got money for four of its five proposals.

“This is fantastic news,” she said in a March 24 meeting.

The Marion County Board of Commissioners last week voted to accept the state money and move forward with the projects.

The Eyre project is being designed and will be completed later this year, while the other two are scheduled to be finished in 2023.

The city of Salem recently received state funds for walk route improvements along city roads within the walk zone for Eyre, as well as Highland, Miller and Swegle elementary schools.

Here’s an overview of the county projects.

Mary Eyre Elementary

The project would add three crosswalks in the school’s walk zone, as well as curb ramps and sidewalk improvements compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

One crosswalk would be at the intersection of Shenandoah Drive Southeast and Shawnee Drive Southeast.

Two more would be added along Pennsylvania Avenue Southeast, along with flashing lights reminding drivers to slow down, Radtke said.

Those crosswalks will be added where Pennsylvania Avenue intersects Shenandoah Drive and Shawnee Drive.

Locations for other curb and sidewalk improvements are marked on the map below.

The project is expected to cost $600,000, with half the costs paid by the state and half by the county.

Improvements planned in the Mary Eyre Elementary School walk zone (Courtesy/Marion County Public Works)

Four Corners Elementary

Students approaching the school from the north currently face a walk down Elma Avenue Southeast, which has an unpaved gravel shoulder and no sidewalk for pedestrians.

“We are missing any kind of pedestrian facilities: no sidewalks, the street is quite narrow,” Radtke told commissioners. “The kids are walking in the gravel and there’s … not marked or signed crossing in this area.”

The project would add a crosswalk across State Street east of Elma Avenue with a flashing beacon pedestrians will be able to activate by pressing a button. The beacon will include a voice telling pedestrians to wait until it’s safe to cross.

It would also add 900 feet of pavement on the east side of Elma Avenue between State Street and Craig Lane Southeast. Radkte said the addition will give kids a smoother, safer surface to walk on and make the route accessible.

An enhanced crosswalk will be built at the intersection of Mahrt Avenue Southeast and Elma Avenue.

As part of the project, the public works department will implement traffic calming measures along Elma Avenue, she said. That will likely mean an all-way stop near the school, Radkte said.

Radkte said the public works department is planning a longer-term federally funded project underway to widen State Street in the area, but sought state funding for the crosswalk to get the work done more quickly.

The improvements are expected to cost $475,000, with $380,000 paid by the state.

Improvements planned in the Four Corners Elementary School walk zone (Courtesy/Marion County Public Works)

Auburn Elementary

The project calls for a crosswalk across Center Street Northeast between Citation Drive Northeast and Tierra Drive Northeast.

Though the improvement is planned about a half mile from the school, Radtke said it will benefit students living in nearby apartment complexes who currently face crossing a busy arterial.

“There are students coming this far and Center Street, it’s a tough one for kids to be crossing on their own,” she said.

The project will be part of a larger public works effort to widen Center Street in 2023, Radtke said.

The crosswalk improvement is expected to cost $200,000, with $160,000 paid by the state.

Improvements planned in the Auburn Elementary School walk zone (Courtesy/Marion County Public Works)

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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